Assuring my fellow inmate that I would happily ‘grass him up’ to Nurse Ratched if he should falter, I positioned him by the bathroom door as my look-out and set about climbing onto a wooden cabinet in a bid to reach the high window. Pulling myself up to the ledge, I was easily able to see over the sill and look down on the lake below.
The foundations of the Institute were built on a rocky crag close to the water, so from my perch three storeys up, I calculated the water’s edge could not have been more than forty-seven feet away. This allowed me a classic birds-eye view of the harbour area. From the layout of the jetty, I reasoned its original purpose was to cater for the twice-daily steam launch that passed for a bus service, dropping off and picking up passengers at various points along the shore. What struck me as odd, however, was the sheer length of the jetty – it appeared far too long to accommodate the day-to-day comings and goings of a thirty-foot launch.
“Urry up, mate,” hissed Cutler, waving a hand in my direction. “The orderlies’ll be along soon and then we’ll be for it.”
“Just a moment,” I said, fishing in my dressing gown for my spyglass. Extending the instrument, I studied the point at the jetty which I judged to be the optimal area for boats and the like to tie up, and I noticed a disparity – the timber utilised for the main section of the landing-stage showed a clear demarcation line where a new section had been added (the colouring of the wood being a shade lighter and its grain more compact, signifying also that this addition had been carried out within the last year). The only reason I could see for such a supplementary construction must be to enable the jetty to reach further out into the lake where the water was considerably deeper, the sort of depth one might require in accommodating a much larger vessel.
And that’s when it happened.
The water around the mid-section of the jetty began to bubble and foam, as if several divers where rising hurriedly to the surface. However, it was not aquanauts emerging from the silvery water that caused the effervescence, but a vessel of the kind I had never seen before. It was the fin which broke the surface first – a gigantic metal fin that must have been a dozen feet in height and twice as much again in length. But this was nothing compared to the beast it was attached to. Rising slowly out of the lake, a gleaming silver fish appeared, its total length close to that of the wooden jetty itself, which seemed like a child’s toy alongside the beast’s massive bulk.
“My God,” I muttered.
“You’ve seen it, then,” said Cutler, recognising the look of amazement that had emblazoned itself across my habitually stolid features.
“Yes,” I nodded. “I’ve seen it.” But then a flash of recognition seared through my brain and I realised I’d observed the gigantic metal fish before. Whatever Nurse Ratched had given me, had virtually erased the item from my memory and only now was I able to recall my actions on seeing this very same vessel the evening before.
“Quickly,” I urged, clambering down from the cabinet. “I must record these details before that damned nurse has another opportunity to pump her evil juice into my body.” Hurrying back to my bed, I slid a hand into the opening I’d made in the side of the mattress, but my slender fingers failed to make contact with the book’s moleskin cover.
“Looking for this, Mr Holmes?”
Raising my head, I knew before I saw it that she had my journal in her thieving hands. “Give that back, you evil temptress,” I muttered, striding towards her.
She gave a shrug and tossed the book across to me, her pendulous bosoms trembling with the effort of movement. “Interesting reading,” she said, “though I’m afraid your enthralling account won’t be making it into print anytime soon – don’t want the world to discover what’s really going on here, do we?”
Out of the corner of my eye, I spied Cutler sliding along the wall towards his own bed, no doubt intending to slide between the sheets before she noticed him. Unfortunately, Nurse Ratched’s henchmen were already waiting with a large syringe and a straitjacket. Within seconds, the poor man was prostrate on the floor, his screams muzzled by a rubber gag. Moments later, he lay quiet, arms tied behind his back via the restraining garment that now encased half his body.
“You won’t get away with this,” I said. “Even now, my faithful companion Doctor John Watson is on his way here. We’ll blow your evil plan out of the water before your villainous leader can say Jack Robinson.”
“J-a-c-k R-o-b-i-n-s-o-n,” articulated an all-too-familiar gravelly voice from the far end of the room.
His mocking words prompted a sinking feeling in my guts, the kind of sinking feeling I imagine Watson encounters on a regular basis. In my case, though, it was a new experience and I did not like it – I did not like it one little bit. Turning my head, I gave the newcomer a rueful smile in the hope of appearing considerably more relaxed than I felt. “Ah, Mister Claw. We meet again.”
“So,” he said, locking the dormitory door behind him. “You have uncovered my dastardly plan?”
Oddly, it was only now that I noticed how quiet the dormitory had become. Apart from Cutler’s, all the beds were empty. My fellow patients had vacated the room. How this had occurred without any of them making a sound, was a mystery – had they secretly been awake earlier, waiting for some sign, some prearranged signal? If so, it could only have happened while I was in the bathing area, but with Cutler on lookout, he must have seen whatever had occurred. Was he part of this evil plan too? In any case, it was no coincidence – the Claw had been here all along, watching me, waiting for his chance. But to do what? And why?
“Well,” I said, stalling for time while probing my massive brain for some clue as to what the hell was going on. “Obviously I know about the fish.”
He raised an eyebrow. “A new type of submarine, that is all. Nothing sinister about that, is there, Mister Holmes?”
A dozen ideas flashed through my brain, none of them making any sense in connection with the water-dwelling contraception. “You’ve discovered a new type of fuel,” I ventured. “Something that will threaten the major powers of the world.”
“I have, as it happens,” he said with a smile. “But that is another project. No, this is something far simpler.” He paused, then, “Can’t you guess? Your biographer Johnny Watson mentioned it in one of his early articles for The Strand Magazine.” He smirked. “The story was replaced in the second printing of that particular edition.”
For a moment, I was stumped, struggling to recall which of our early escapades he referred to. Then it came to me: “Ah, you mean The Laird and the Wicker Mannie?”
He nodded slowly, making a get-on-with-it motion with his metallic hand, his jaw set hard in a grimace of annoyance.
“The new story was called The Lady in Red, I think.”
The Claw let out a growl, the veins in his forehead throbbing furiously. “A Study in Scarlet, you imbecile.”
“Ah yes,” I said. “It was substituted due to some indiscretion of John’s regarding–”
“Get to the fucking point, Holmes,” screamed the Claw, his face flushing purple.
Gazing out of the window, I noted the appearance of grey-black clouds scudding across the sky, blocking out the sun – an ominous sign. “Very well. The word you’re referring to is ‘rache’ – a German term meaning…” I looked at him. “Revenge.”
The Claw’s anger subsided. “Precisely,” he murmured. “And that revenge begins now…”